Mateo Kingman’s ‘Astro’ – review

Soft electro chords, stellar echoes, playfulness and cosmic beats form the spine of Mateo Kingman’s second album, Astro.

The record opens with “Umbral” (‘beginning’ or ‘threshold’, in English) and it feels as though this is more of a natural dawn, a sunrise, rather than simply the first track of an album.

“Lucero” (‘star’ in English) calls to mind the auroras of the northern and southern hemispheres and floats and reflects along, as opposed to mundanely following a set, three-minute form. He focuses on drifting music, considering spirituality and greater themes, of how music and the wider universe understand and inform each other.

Three singles have been released from the album, “Tejidos” (‘textures’, in English), “Religar” (‘re-bind’ or ‘re-tie’) and “Último Aliento” (‘last breath’). In the video for “Tejidos”, we get a sense of the serpentine, other-worldly, mesmerising cosmic flow that emanates from much of the album.

The protection of and connection with the environment is critical for Kingman, who promotes the celebration of indigenous peoples in his home country, Ecuador.

In his social media and now also in this new release he drives links to the rich variety of Ecuadorian nature, from the swells of the Pacific, through the 6,000m peaks of the Andes, to the mystery and interconnectedness of the Amazon.

But it is not all celestial contemplation.

There is a pleasing drop three minutes deep in “Astro”, there is the urban riff and hip-hop of “IO”, and the chilled electro of “Religar”.

It is a playful, beautiful album that seems to strive for more than the banalities of regular ‘cosmic intrigue’ records.

A good summary comes from Kingman himself, whose description of “Tejidos” could be expanded to describe the whole album. He says it is “a dialogue between the traveller and the snakes/vehicles of the universe”.

Tan lejos de la patria

An exhibition displays the struggles and successes of Mexicans living in the UK

Part of the ‘Being Human’ festival, ‘Mexicans UK’ illustrates a mixed community of backgrounds both similar and distinct, of futures aimed and obscured. It explores concepts of blurred humanity and personal imagination among those Mexicans who came to the UK for work or study, for love or family.

It is a collaboration between the brother-sister act of Mexican-British photographers Roxana and Pablo Allison. It consists of 32 portraits: one person from all 31 Mexican states and also the federal district of Mexico City.

Here are some of the images that stood out for me:

Mariacarmen Cárdenas - (Pedro and Roxana Allison)

Mariacarmen Cárdenas (Mexico City) – Credit for this image and all photos below: Pablo and Roxana Allison

Mariacarmen Cárdenas told a sad tale. After coming to the UK with her British husband, the marriage broke down and she went through family and workplace battles. She painted a sorrowful picture of life in the UK but was adamant she would not be returning to Mexico. She seemed to be facing her situation defiantly; a position of quiet strength emphasised in the picture above by her gaze and the political memorabilia of indigenous struggle.

 

Karla Mancilla - (Credit: Pedro and Roxana Allison)

Karla Mancilla (State: Baja California Sur)

Originating from Baja California Sur, Karla Mancilla’s story struck me as the narrative of water: migration and movement. Waves swell with force and becalm with stillness; they could carry Karla back home, or bar her way. She is from a Pacific state back home and is sitting in the picture here next to a British watercourse. She talks in detail about the oceanic fauna of her state, the whale sharks, dolphins and sea lions. Ms Mancilla lists shredded manta ray as her favourite dish.

 

Willams Santis - (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Willams Santis   (Chiapas)

Williams Santis came to the UK for family. He met an Irish girl in Mexico and had a baby with her, then moved from Mexico to be with them in the UK. He now works in a car park and as an artist. Here, leaning against an open caravan door, is he pondering the racism that he says he suffers in the UK? Or his proud indigenous roots? Maybe he is thinking about the Irish woman and his child. For Mr Santis, love knew no bounds.

 

Michelle Dominguez (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Michelle Dominguez   (Chihuahua)

Troubling security and political instability are the main concerns for Michelle Dominguez, as she looks back to the land of her birth. I liked her pose here, caught between two rooms – two countries – casually hovering under one sky, one roof. She is leaning on the threshold against a pane of mottled glass, blurring the views back to where she has come from and blurring the future for those left behind.

 

Efrain Carpintero (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Efrain Carpintero   (Querétaro)

The quietness, religiosity and burgeoning economic activity of Querétaro state are called to mind by Efrain Carpintero, who is in the UK researching for a PhD. I felt a positivity coming through this portrait, an academic ambition from a softly beautiful state.

 

Natalia Cervantes (Credit: Pablo and Roxana Allison)

Natalia Cervantes   (Sinaloa)

Layered in Nature, staring straight ahead, perhaps Natalia Cervantes is combining her thoughts: a wooded mix of the dusty plants from her home state of Sinaloa and the wet verdancy of her adopted country. This image caught my eye for its natural setting and the fact the woman is Sinaloan, from an edgy corner of the country, and here is painting a picture of the people and the food, tinged with bloody streets of drugs violence, set against the mountains, plains and coastline.

Pacha Mama Mia

The presidents of Peru and Bolivia face resistance from indigenous communities over environmental plans

When Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, became the leader of Bolivia in 2005 he also became the first indigenous president. He came to power on a mandate to govern with a sort of ‘indigenous socialism’. Morales has been a strident defender of the rights of Bolivia’s native inhabitants and their stunning natural environment. He always liked to equate their struggle against colonial invaders with his fight against foreign traders, the US and Western capitalism; politics with which Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader currently battling cancer, has identified very strongly.

But it has been six years since his arrival and the outlook is now different for Evo. In the past he has called any interference in the way-of-life or homeland of the indigenous communities ‘ecolocide’. Now he is the one being accused of destroying pacha mama. On 16 August indigenous activists took the first steps on a 233 mile-long protest march from the Amazon plains to the capital, La Paz. Normally, this would be a demonstration that Morales would be more than happy to join. But the march is in opposition to one of his policies, namely a government plan to build a 190 mile-long highway through a national park in aboriginal territory.

The road would potentially link the Beni plains to the Chapare, where Evo was a coca farmer before going on to lead a coca farmers’ union. Brazil has stumped up $420m for the project and certainly knows a thing or two about controversial environmental politics and upsetting local tribes, having given the Belo Monte dam the green light on 1 June. Foreign investors are on the horizon and the forest stands between them. Morales’ ‘indigenous socialism’ seems to be morphing into something more like ‘investment socialism’.

Ollanta Humala, who replaced Alan Garcia in the Peruvian presidency in July, has also found that he is having to alter the populist, pro-indigenous policies he has previously championed. In opposition he had been a creature in the mould of Chavez and Morales, denouncing free trade and capitalism but he has since ensured his new government is not seen as isolationist and instead said:

“We are building a government of national unity. This isn’t a Cabinet of the left or the right, but a Cabinet for all of Peru.”

He has angered native Peruvians with his plans for expanded oil and gas investment and exploration. And, just like in Bolivia, new roads through the Amazon rainforest have been proposed. The indigenous communities have criticised Humala and seem ready to rise, just as Bolivia’s Indians are now doing against one of their own.

Both countries could do with more infrastructural integration with neighbours and natural resources can be shared and developed but there is now a strengthening indigenous challenge. The once-quiet, Quechua and Aymara-speaking communities seem to have found a collective and growing voice.